Monday, 6 July 2009

The Little Stranger Redux

I made my disappointed and frustrated feelings on Sarah Waters' latest -and much anticipated- novel, The Little Stranger here. However, hindsight and post-analysis can be a wonderful thing. I remain slightly disappointed and it is my least favourite of her novels; although the historical setting and social commentary were exceptionally well researched, they were too dry for me and the narrator Dr Faraday altogether too dull.

Reading insightful reviews by Savidge Reads and Dovegreyreader, and then Dovegreyreader's interview with Sarah Waters posted today, has persuaded me to re-examine the novel and my reaction towards it; it is rare that a negative impression of a book prompts such consternation in me but this one has. Simon suggested re-reading the closing line to make sense of the subtle and vague ending and I managed to do so recently (I, ahem, sold my copy of the novel, which is something I never do with hardbacks, especially those I was counting down the days until published). I urge you to re-read that closing line as it confirmed a hunch I had whilst reading the novel, but by the close of it I had almost stopped caring if it was correct or not. Re-reading that line and reading complimentary and illuminating reviews by others made it clear to me that I definitely missed something in the first reading. Upon further reflection and drawing comparisons with my favourite novel, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, I now have more of an appreciation of the novel, of its nuances. I am now more disturbed by my potential limitations as a reader by giving it too linear a reading and being oblivious to some of its subtleties.... Perhaps it was my own expectations of the novel that let me down; The Little Stranger didn't live up to the high bar I had set for a beloved writer and in setting it so high I think I sold Sarah Waters short and consequently myself.

This is a peculiar blog post to write but I have been struggling with the thoughts over the last couple of weeks and thought that I should share them. The slow building of resonance with this novel has completely taken me by surprise and it has a lingering, haunting quality that is rather apt.


Lezlie said...

Experiences like this are the reason I don't rate books on my blog. I often find myself reflecting on books later and finding my opinion to be different than it was when I first read it. I'm glad you shared your new thoughts!


Nymeth said...

Very high expectations can really be troublesome like that. But I am happy and relieved to hear you are not so disappointed after all! I'm going to leave this for last and approach it with caution, but hopefully keeping your words in mind will help me appreciate it more.

Paperback Reader said...

Lezlie, I'm glad I did too. Sometimes a book is like a fine wine and it requires time to mature!

Ana, few books manage to live up to hype, especially the hype we create ourselves as hopeful readers. I would recommend reading Rebecca first, if you haven't done so already.

JoAnn said...

Expectations can create problems...glad to hear your disappointment has been tempered a bit. I tend to let a book 'settle' before I write about it, but then run into trouble when I wait too long.

farmlanebooks said...

I've finally made it here!

I had similar feelings towards this book and also appreciate the book more now that I have had time to think about it.

I don't think it is good that 75% of people reading it don't notice the twist when reading the book though - I think it should be a little more obvious than that. Not everyone has great blogging friends to point these things out!

I'm hoping that reading Rebecca will make things clearer for me, but I still think Fingersmith is far better than Little Stranger.

Paperback Reader said...

JoAnn, normally my impression of a novel remains the same unless I re-read it, but this one definitely crept up on me.

Jackie, yay!
I am still frustrated my its subtlety and ambiguity; I think it was too vague. I appreciate that Sarah Waters is probably trying something new and wanted to leave it open to interpretation for effect but I expected more. Fingersmith is by far her best book; there's no beating that twist, which is probably why she didn't even attempt another major one.

Darlene said...

Since reading the interview between Sarah Waters and Lynne I've wanted to read The Little Stranger again. I enjoyed the book quite a bit and wasn't bothered that the ending wasn't wrapped up in a bow, I sort of came to my own conclusions. BUT, I do think that I've underestimated Dr Faraday. If you read this could you send me an email regarding the last line in the book. I read a library copy and it's long gone back and I'm soooo curious now! You can access my email through my blog. Cheers!

Karen said...

All of the discussion and thoughts about this one has only made me want to read it more I think!!

Paperback Reader said...

Karen, it's certainly though-provoking and has generated discussion, which is a good thing! I look forward to reading your thoughts when you do; the more opinions I read, the more I think about it.